Monday, December 28, 2009

Benefit of Doubt

My post from last week questioned the accuracy of Jon Krakauer’s friendly fire numbers, and it generated several comments. One of them was posted on Christmas day by an anonymous viewer.

Here’s what Anonymous said:
"The Brookings Institution data cited above (based on data provided by the DoD) is interesting, but it offers absolutely no data about friendly fire.

The 2006 CBS News article cited above, which reports a rate of death from friendly fire in Iraq of approximately 1%, was based entirely on data provided by the Army. This data has been widely criticized as unreliable. Deaths reported by the Army as enemy fire have later been revealed to be friendly fire on numerous occasions.

The friendly fire numbers cited by Krakauer were the result of independent research performed by the American War Library, a non-partisan organization with no axe to grind. Although the 41% casualty rate from friendly fire in Iraq reported by the AWL seems shockingly high, and may well proved to be incorrect, it seems much more believable than the Army's data. It shold be noted that the AWL's friendly fire numbers for other wars do not seem excessive (21% in WWII, 39% in Viet Nam, etc.). So maybe there is some bad data skewing their Iraq numbers.

The Army's claim of less than a 1% death rate from friendly fire in OIF defies belief even more than the AWL's numbers. Historians consider the casualty from friendly fire in all wars to date to be 10-15%, at a very conservative minimum."
The comment is a good example of the support group mentality in our anti-Republican culture. Mr. Krakauer sets a tone of suspicion against those in a Republican administration and the piling-on begins.

Who deserves the benefit of the doubt? It is not our armed forces or the institutions that audit their data.

In a few short paragraphs we are given the following characterizations:
--The Brookings Institute is a shill for the U. S. Army.
--CBS News has been duped by the U.S. Army
--Data from the U.S. Army is widely acknowledged to be unreliable.

The technique of arguing facts with characterizations works well. It takes an informed reader to realize that U.S. soldiers are not issued IEDs or RPGs or car bombs. These are the weapons used by enemy fighters, and when an overwhelming number of our soldiers are killed by these devices, it is not “friendly fire.”

Still, the suspect statistics are given the benefit of the doubt. Who knows?  There might be a conspiracy at work, and people are certainly capable of lying.

The legacies of CBS News and the Brookings Institute speak for themselves. I’ll speak for our armed services.

The picture above is from the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy. It is a statement of the honor code that becomes a part of the character of each cadet. It is representative of the honor codes at each of our service academies: West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy. These institutions develop career officers for our armed services, and they require students to internalize this statement of conduct.

In our society, it is rare that an institution of higher learning will expel a student for a breach of honor, and yet that can happen at our service academies. Our military takes honor very seriously.

It takes an informed reader to understand this. Without that knowledge, the accusations of lying and cover-up in our armed services seem entirely credible.

While our soldiers engage the enemy on the battlefield, there is also an intellectual battle in play. It is a battle where facts fight characterizations, and the characterizations typically have an advantage.

The previous blog post on Jon Krakauer’s statistics was viewed by fewer than 8,500 people. Mr. Krakauer’s take on things will be read and absorbed by many times that number.  Even with that numerical advantage, our culture will add to the "weight of evidence."

It affords Mr. Krakauer’s point of view the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friendly Fire

I had the opportunity to read the latest book from Jon Krakauer this weekend. It is titled, “Where Men Win Glory” and follows other successful works by Mr. Krakauer, including “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. It is the story of former pro football player Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Surprisingly, the story has a backdrop of anti-Republican sentiment. Mr. Krakauer establishes his anti-Republican credentials early in the book when he characterizes Republican figures in a negative fashion. From the Prologue, referring to Pat Tillman’s public persona (page xxiv):
“Seizing the opportunity to capitalize on his celebrity, the Bush administration endeavored to use his name and image to promote what it had christened the Global War on Terror.”
“The right-wing harridan Ann Coulter claimed him as an exemplar of Republican political values.”
When I see characterizations like this, I tend to put my reading into “scan mode.” I no longer look for gifted prose or clever uses of description and style. I simply look for the substance and highlights of the text and go through the book rather quickly.

Mr. Krakauer does have substance in his book. We learn that Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin were both assigned to the same platoon in Afghanistan. We learn that Pat appears to have been killed by three rounds to the right side of his forehead from a single burst of a .223-caliber M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon). We also learn that Pat’s brother was not told the killing was “fratricide” until May 24, 2004, more than a month after Pat’s death. The incredible part of the story is that Kevin did not know the actual circumstances of his brother’s death, even though he was on the scene when his brother was killed.

This is the story of an American tragedy, and Mr. Krakauer uses that tragedy to showcase the scandal of “blue-on-blue” killing in the American armed forces. He sums up the problem in a Postscript at the end of the book (page 343):
“If the United States’ involvement in future wars is inevitable, so, too, is it inevitable that American soldiers will fall victim to friendly fire in those conflicts, for the simple reason that fratricide is part and parcel of every war. According to the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War. Thus far in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates are 41 percent and 13 percent, respectively. All these figures are conservative estimates, moreover; due to endemic underreporting of fratricide by the military, the actual percentages are unquestionably higher.”
Mr. Krakauer’s concern for fratricide is honorable, but 41 percent blue-on-blue casualties in Iraq? That seems high. I went to the Internet and looked for confirmation.

I came across an indicator of Mr. Krakauer’s honor and integrity in an article published by Entertainment Weekly on 9/11/2009. It quotes him as saying:
“I go with what the material gives me. I don’t try to impose a narrative on it. And now, perversely, I enjoy criticism. I write these books and people don’t have to buy them.”
This level of personal integrity takes a toll on his personal life. Mr. Krakauer explains:
“I need to decompress. It’s not like I have a compulsion to write, so who knows, there may not be another book. This book was really hard. I don’t necessarily need to do this again.”
We get the sense that Mr. Krakauer is passionate about his work, and would attempt to faithfully report the statistics from “the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties” referenced above. (We unfortunately don’t know exactly what source Mr. Krakauer is using, as he doesn’t footnote it.)

Luckily, there are other sources. CBS News has an article by Sean Alfano from March 11, 2006. It reports strikingly different figures:
“Over the past four years, 17 soldiers have died in friendly fire incidents such as the one that killed former professional football player Pat Tillman, according to Army data.

The 17 soldiers felled by friendly fire incidents are about 1 percent of the 1,575 soldiers who have died overall.”
“The rate of friendly fire deaths for all U.S. troops in World War II was 12-14 percent; Vietnam, 10-14 percent; Grenada, 13 percent; and Panama, 6 percent.
To resolve the discrepancy (1% friendly fire deaths reported by CBS News vs. 41% friendly fire casualties reported by Mr. Krakauer), we can analyze data provided by the Brookings Institute. I like using this source because the information is transparently available and frequently updated. (This stands in marked contrast to data being manipulated by global warming advocates, or by our federal legislature for that matter.)

The Brookings Institute Data was just updated on December 11, 2009. It shows that in Iraq there have been 31,582 U. S. troops wounded in action since March 19, 2003. In the same timeframe, there have been 4,367 U.S. troops killed in action (KIA).

What’s extremely helpful about the Brookings information is that it categorizes KIA data by “cause of death.” On page 15 you can see the breakdown for each month from March 2003 to the present.

Assuming Mr. Krakauer’s percentage of blue-on-blue casualties for Iraq is correct (41 percent of the war casualties, both fatal and nonfatal) we have a major scandal in front of our eyes. With 4,367 U.S. troops killed in action and 31,582 U.S. troops wounded in action, 41 percent of that total would be 14,739. This means nearly 15,000 of our troops in Iraq have been killed or wounded by friendly fire, and according to Mr. Krakauer, these figures “…are conservative estimates.”

Let’s use the Brookings data to examine the problem more closely. If the same proportion of “fatal and nonfatal” friendly fire incidents (41 percent) applies just to KIA, then 1,790 deaths in Iraq would have been caused by friendly fire. That’s a lot of deaths by fratricide, and the Brookings Institute helps us put it in perspective. They list the number of deaths by IED (Improvised Explosive Device) at 1,735. Assuming that death by IED cannot be a “fratricide event,” then the friendly fire percentage is indeed a scandal. Of the non-IED killed in action in Iraq, fully 68 percent of the deaths would necessarily be the result of friendly fire. If you are not killed by an IED, you are twice as likely to be killed by your own compatriot as by the enemy! How’s that for a recruiting slogan!

I hope by now some of you are coming to the conclusion that there might be something wrong with Mr. Krakauer’s use of statistics. Read his book and you will come to understand that he has a low regard for the leadership of our combat forces, from the battalion level all the way up to the Pentagon. But to assume our armed forces are experiencing the level of friendly fire casualties cited by Mr. Krakauer in “Where Men Win Glory” requires a giant leap of faith.

This book may be categorized as “nonfiction”, but if you believe his numbers and take them without question, you may indeed be stepping “Into Thin Air”.

UPDATE 12/23/2009:
Linked by Instapundit.
Thanks, Professor Reynolds.

UPDATE 12/24/2009:
An anonymous commenter directs us to the American War Library site for verificiation of the 41% statistic.  Maybe they would have information on how that value was determined.

UPDATE 4/14/2011:
This recent friendly fire "incident" reminds us that human error on the battlefield is something that must be minimized but can never be discounted in the "fog and friction of war."

UPDATE 10/15/2011:
Here's more on the April 6, 2011 incident noted above.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Whiny Republicans Can't Handle the Truth

It’s been a few days since Senator Harry Reid made some comments on the Senate floor that became news. From an Associated Press story as reported by the Denver Post

Pace of health care debate draws slavery comparison

WASHINGTON — On and off the Senate floor, the health care debate has become intensely political.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican Party, demanded an apology from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday after Reid criticized those favoring a slower, more incremental approach to health care.

"You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right. In this country, there were those who . . . dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough' — about slavery," Reid said.

Steele said if Reid won't apologize, "Democrats must immediately reconsider his fitness to lead them."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said, "Today's feigned outrage is nothing but a ploy to distract from the fact they (Republicans) have no plan to lower the cost of health care, stop insurance-company abuses or protect Medicare."
The story is interesting because it could have had three different headlines:
--Whiny Republicans Can’t Handle the Truth
--Associated Press Promotes Anti-Republican Culture
--Senate Majority Leader: “Republican Racists Don’t Want Women to Vote”

The Denver Post chose the first headline. It is not what actually was printed, but you can sense it from the story. They might have used the last headline, but that level of clarity would have been uncomfortable for the editors. The idea is to promote anti-Republican themes while appearing to be non-partisan.

I would like to focus on the middle headline.

I’m writing this four days after the fact. I had wanted to see how the story played in the news media, and had expected the Denver Post to publish the characterization as news and then follow with some type of factual analysis appearing in the Opinion Section of the paper, just to provide balance.

My wait was in vain. The Denver Post chose not to publish any editorial response or even a Letter to the Editor. The news item is simply presented as another story of how Republicans “whine” when they are faced with the truth.

But is the story an accurate portrayal of “Truth”? Senator Reid’s remarks are shown in this YouTube clip from C-SPAN 2, brought to us in a post on the PowerLine Blog by John Hinderaker:

The pertinent remarks begin at 1:20 into the video, and finish at 2:08. In case the link to the video is removed, here is a transcript of Senator Reid’s comments from the 1:20 point:

"But instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: 'slow down, stop everything. Let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, let’s wait. Things aren't bad enough.'"

"When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote. Some insisted they simply slow down. ‘There will be a better day to do that. Today isn't quite right.’”

"When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today."
 (That last sentence is a reference to the late Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond's famous 1957 filibuster. Interestingly, Senator Thurmond switched parties from Democrat to Republican seven years later at the age of 60.)

Senator Reid is characterizing Republicans as being racists who don't want women to vote. The Denver Post does not challenge this characterization, preferring to note the incident as a political squabble with an outraged Republican making an accusation, and a spokesman for Senator Reid dispatching the accusation as groundless.

End of story.

But there is much more to the “squabble”. There is a story based on the leader of the United States Senate teaching Americans to hate Republicans based upon revisions in historical facts. There is also a story based upon the practice of journalism in our anti-Republican culture. Neither of these stories is of interest to the Denver Post.

However, to paraphrase (with poetic license) a saying from the 20th century, “You may not be interested in the Truth, but the Truth is interested in you.”

What the Denver Post is "not interested in" is the following:

--The Democratic Party, under the leadership of Jefferson Davis, helped the Southern States secede from the Union in 1861 to preserve the institution of slavery. The Civil War ensued, but luckily the leadership of Abraham Lincoln prevailed and slavery was abolished in the United States. President Lincoln, in case you missed it, was a Republican.

--The Democratic Party, in 1919, had 54% of its Senators vote for women’s suffrage. Unfortunately, an amendment to the United States Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. How did the amendment get passed? 82% of Republicans voted for it, and the amendment passed with two more votes than needed. Senator Reid, who is well-versed in vote counting, knows that the 19th amendment would not have passed if it was solely dependent on the support of "twenty enlightened Democrats" in the Senate.

--The Democratic Party, in the 1960s, was fully invested in segregation. Senator Reid knows that leaders such as George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus were not Republicans.

The story in the Denver Post could have been presented in a couple of different ways, but the one chosen helps perpetuate our anti-Republican culture. The technique is not as severe as the techniques used by Hamas to promote anti-Semitism in the Middle East, but there certainly are similarities.

A prominent similarity is the lack of concern for truth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Soldier

President Obama recently gave a speech at the United States Military Academy, laying out his prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. The speech announced the deployment of additional troops:

“…I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.”
…and then the redeployment of those troops:

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
The President spoke of the difficulty of his decision:

“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.”
…and then speaking on behalf of the United Nations, as well as the friends and allies of the United States, he explains his intent:

“Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”
He then gets to the “objective” of the war:

“To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.”
His words made me think of a foreign aid package rather than a military effort. He will commit the help and support of the United States for a time, but because he has other priorities, he will have to withdraw that support in the near future. He does not state that “he will” accomplish objectives, but rather that “we must.” Instead of a promise to be measured and evaluated, it is a plea.

American soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, and we are still not sure if what President Obama is saying makes sense. Our military institutions teach the “Principles of War”, and the principle of Objective states, “Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective.”

I won’t quibble over wording, but contrast the objective in the Iraq war (to create a center of Western influence in the Middle East) with what our President intends to do in Afghanistan. There are chasms of difference in strategy and outcomes!

The Iraq war took the United States from an isolationist foreign policy to one of engagement and confrontation in a part of the world we had avoided for centuries. We removed a dictator who was killing 3,000 people every month. We brought about the right to vote for Iraqi citizens, which includes over ten million women.

And this was the “bad” war.

The “good” war (that “war of necessity”) is being portrayed as a matter-of-fact project. Will it turn out that way? Carl von Clausewitz, in his book “On War”, wrote about the unpredictable nature of war. It’s unfortunate, but wars rarely unfold as politicians predict.

John Kerry, in a speech before the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate in 1971, gave us insight into the politicizing of warfare. With clever philosophical duality, he chastised American soldiers as war criminals when they fought in Vietnam, and heralded them as heroes when they died. It is the speech where he poses the rhetorical question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Those words came to mind as I reviewed the transcript of President Obama’s speech. My thought was, “Senator Kerry, watch President Obama. He is showing you how it is done.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Arctic Fox and Rugged Individualism

Sarah Palin has been in the news recently. She is on a national tour to promote her book “Going Rogue,” and has been generating equal measures of excitement (from her supporters) and outcry (from her opponents).

Depending on your political leanings, you either consider her unqualified and clearly out of her league, or inspirational and with a long list of accomplishments.

Here’s a picture that seems to spark controversy:

It’s a frame taken from a YouTube video shot in Kuwait in July 2007. It shows Governor Palin shouldering a Colt M4 Carbine 5.56mm training rifle while visiting her deployed troops from the 3rd Battalion 297th Infantry Regiment of the Alaska National Guard.

When I see that picture, I think “This is a person who is comfortable with firearms. This Governor probably has no difficulty getting the safety off and chambering a round.”

Does she make you think of anyone?

Does Davy Crockett come to mind? He is a person who represented the Spirit of the American Frontier. He is a romanticized figure and, unfortunately, died young: an American hero at the battle of the Alamo. His rifle “Betsy” is on display in Nashville, Tennessee.

We don’t have many “rugged individualists,” but I think America has a lot of respect for them. These people move us. They show us that it is honorable to be strong and principled.

Sarah Palin is capturing that spirit. She is our modern Rugged Individualist. As a woman, her presence on the political landscape animates people in ways that we’ve not seen in a long time. The American Thinker ran an article by a Northern California psychotherapist, “Robin of Berkeley,” that covers some of the emotional response to Governor Palin’s gender. There is even a Web site devoted to the musings of Sarah Palin’s Uterus!

But can we just get past the sexism?

Our current Davy Crockett is a female. GET OVER IT!

It is pure speculation, but an Arctic Fox / Fred Thompson ticket in 2012 could be a winning combination. America likes having a young Commander in Chief backed by an older and more experienced Vice President. It makes sense.

Here’s the game plan…

Governor Palin centers her campaign on the Principles of the Constitution; those founding principles that make America a great country. For starters, she goes to W. Cleon Skousen’s book, “The 5000 Year Leap.” It has a complete section on the 28 Principles of the Founding Fathers.

Imagine a campaign stop where she teaches us…

--The need for virtuous and moral leaders (3rd principle)
--Sovereignty of the people (10th principle)
--Free-market economics (15th principle)
--The importance of an educated electorate (23rd principle)
--Peace through strength (24th principle)

Her speeches teach American Exceptionalism and paint a bright future. They awaken the “Inner Republican” in all Americans.

She presents in vivid contrast…

--Her Rugged Individualism vs. The Community Organizer
--Pride of Country vs. Pride of Party
--Power to the People vs. Power to the Government

Her running mate, Fred Thompson, uses our current problems to illustrate her vision...

--Why a policy of appeasement and containment with Iran is insanity;
--Why stimulus to the consumer is better than stimulus to the government;
--Why the politics of favoritism is the wrong path.

The Democratic Party continues with the theme that “Sarah is unqualified” but it will ring hollow. Their tactic of paying favors to the rich while using promises of entitlements to buy off the poor will become politically stale.

By 2012, America should be ready for the Arctic Fox and a new Rugged Individualism. Yes, there's something happening here.

UPDATE 12/03/09:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Head over there and note the "tease" to encourage a click over to this site.  (Tim shows us how a master works the magic of the Web.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Hatred

The recent killings at Fort Hood, Texas are being cast as an aberrational act by a disturbed individual. Americans are urged to restrain from characterizing the perpetrator, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, in a negative light.

I think it should cause us to take a look at something else: Hatred.

Hatred impacts our daily lives. If you are a parent, you might remember taking some disciplinary action with a petulant child and the child retaliating with, “I hate you!” In our entertainment media, we see people infused with hate and watch their actions for enjoyment. The Star Wars movies dealt with hate and how it can take us to “the dark side of the Force.” To its credit, our entertainment industry generally teaches us that hate is not a good thing.

That is not true elsewhere.

Around the world, you don’t see attempts to restrict or reduce hate. We might have a “war against hunger” or a “fight to end poverty”, but we don’t see a battle against hate.

It is because hate is a staple of religion and politics throughout the world.

In Christianity, hate is directed at an abstract concept: The Devil. You are taught to fear and fight the temptations of The Devil. In other religions, the same idea is employed: Satan is that entity against whom you fight for salvation.

What’s the problem with this? It comes when the concept of Satan is transferred from an abstraction to human form. This is where politics comes in. Political leaders are happy to redirect your fight against Satan to a fight against “The Great Satan.” The fight is no longer an abstraction. It becomes a fight against people of the Jewish faith, Americans, or apostates in general.

When Religion and Politics intersect, and religious fervor energizes political goals, you feel the seduction of hatred in all its power. The zenith comes when the intensity of hate reaches that point where an individual is willing to die in pursuit of the death of others. The “suicide bomber” becomes emblematic of religious faith being driven by political ambitions. Hatred and the promise of glory in the afterlife are transformed into engines of destruction.

Hatred is legitimized in religion and celebrated in politics, but is this the right direction for human progress? Think back to Howard Dean energizing his supporters during the 2004 Democratic Primaries. At political rallies, he would shout, “I hate Republicans!” and his followers would cheer.

In America, we sometimes become aware of the intensity of political hatred when scorn and derision are used to fan the intensity of political debate. When we see these emotions carried to the extreme, it should cause us to pause.

We should stop for a moment and reflect…on hatred.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Opinion vs. News

The Denver Post had a news story on November 10 with the headline “Heat is on Colorado climate-change guru.” The subhead to the piece was “Conservatives criticize Gov. Ritter adviser Alice Madden for also working for a liberal group.”

The Denver Post has a single quote from Jessica Corry, a “conservative political analyst” who doesn’t like that Colorado State Climate Change Coordinator Alice Madden receives $3,000 a month from the Center for American Progress (CAP) while she advises our Governor on state policy.

Aside from the paragraph with this quote, the rest of the news story is a narrative explaining why this arrangement is “right and natural” and good for the state of Colorado. It brings to mind the technique used by Attorney General Jerry Brown to address the climate change issue in California.

That was Tuesday. Today (Thursday) the Opinion Section of the Denver Post has a letter from Ms. Madden, saying that she has “…notified CAP that I am withdrawing from the fellowship program effective immediately.”

So everything turns out for the good! A close adviser to our Governor no longer has “an appearance of potential conflict.”

That is true, but the coverage of the incident is what is important. It is another example of the infrastructure bias in our newspapers. The “News” coverage explains why the situation is good for Colorado, characterizing Ms. Madden as a devoted public servant being attacked by a Conservative. The “Opinion” section is where the facts of the situation are weighed and the eventual resolution is published.

If you are in a country where characterizations are “News” and facts are “Opinion”, you might honestly question if there is cultural bias in place.

Welcome to my blog.

UPDATE 9/19/2011:
Jon Caldara at People's Press Collective highlights Dr. Paul Prentice's comments on this phenomenon at the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day!

It is November 11, and it’s the day Americans celebrate veterans of the United States military.

I want to recognize that fact, but in a slightly different way. My good wishes go out to combat veterans; veterans who have performed military duty while in harm’s way.

There is a special understanding of war that comes to these people. No matter what motivates one to join the armed services, combat changes that motivation. You might have a sense of patriotism, a desire for glory, or a need to prove yourself, but when the shooting starts, things change.

The first realization that comes is that you are being used. It might be your commanding officer looking for a promotion, or a politician brandishing power, but you find yourself to be a pawn in a bigger game than you first realized. Your life is at stake for someone else’s personal gain.

The second realization is that war is random. Your training only takes you so far. You also need a bit of luck. Some might attach a divine interpretation to this situation, but it comes down to a randomness that we just don’t understand. You end up taking on behaviors and accoutrements that preserve your luck, and you unabashedly use them.

The third realization is that you deal with it. Going on a mission with the knowledge that you might be dead within the next 24 hours is a type of torment most people don’t have to endure. You agonize over the ramifications of what you are doing: the toll on your loved ones; the integrity of your unit. You deal with the big question: Is it worth it?

And then you reconcile.

You do it because it is your duty. You have personal honor, and you will not give that up. You set your resolve and go.

For those of you who have lived these words, know that my thoughts are with you this Veteran's Day. You have my deepest respect, and I wish you Godspeed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Yesterday I received an e-mail from Michael Tupper, promoting the candidacy of Troy Stanley in the 4th Congressional District in Florida.

The 4th CD is in northern Florida and stretches from Jacksonville on the east to Tallahassee (the state capitol) on the west. It borders Georgia on the north and is essentially a rural district with a major military influence (Navy Jax).

Mr. Stanley is using a bicycle to make his campaign statement. He is going to ride across the district next month, just before Pearl Harbor Day. His point is that he wants to “oust recycled politicians.” The specific politician in question is incumbent Republican Representative Ander Crenshaw, who amongst other things does not support offshore drilling in Florida. Mr. Stanley hopes to bring a fresh Republican philosophy to the race.

In Colorado, we had campaigns for Mayor of the City and County of Denver that had this style. The current Mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, campaigned on a Vespa motor scooter, showing that he was close to the city in more ways than one. The former Mayor, Wellington Webb, had a “Sneaker Campaign”, where he walked the neighborhoods of Denver to show that he too was a close part of the city.

It is a tried-and-true technique, and it is good to see a Republican candidate set aside the Party paraphernalia and reach out directly to the people. We will have to see if this will bring success!

The events in the New York 23rd CD have encouraged Republicans to appeal more directly to the voters. In New York, the person selected by the GOP in CD23 ended up suspending her campaign and throwing support to the Democratic Party candidate. Republicans got a strong message that something needs to be done.

We’ve got a culture in our country that makes the going tough. Our schools teach anti-Republican history and our entertainment industry enjoys using anti-Republican characterizations. When even the GOP fails us, it is good to see that there are still Republicans with the gumption to take on the challenges of running for public office.

Troy Stanley has an interesting story, and could use our support.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Seven Words That Cannot Be Spoken

The Power and Authority of the Democratic Party.

There, I’ve said the seven words. It’s a phrase, actually, not like the seven “dirty” words that the late comedian George Carlin immortalized. And I guess I have written them, not spoken them, but let’s not “split hairs.”

Rahm Emanuel, our White House Chief of Staff, gives a perfect example of avoiding the use of the seven words when he says, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” He explains the remark in this YouTube video, but most of us understand what he meant to say: “Never miss an opportunity to increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party.”

Another example is the career that Al Gore has made over variations in the earth’s climate. The former Vice President uses the “crisis” of global warming to advance the power and authority of the Democratic Party, and positions himself to increase his wealth at the same time. While the idea of “fighting climate change” is a strong Democratic Party value, Mr. Gore will never say that what he is doing is designed to increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party. You have to note the synergy between his wealth and the Democratic Party and “connect the dots.”

Our President deals with the “crisis” issue on several fronts. In the area of foreign policy, he has been accused by a prominent Republican of “dithering over Afghanistan.” He seems torn over whether to call it a “good war” or a “bad war”; whether to consider it as a “war of necessity” or a “war of choice”; whether it is a war worth dying for…or not.

What is actually going on is that he is working the political calculus of how to use the war to increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party. It is another “crisis” to be exploited for that purpose. When his actions pose the least risk to the power and authority of the Democratic Party, he will take a firm position.

In domestic policy, the President is concerned over the state of the economy and the state of healthcare insurance programs. Whether or not his policies improve the economy or improve healthcare, we can know one thing with certainty: His policies will increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party.

Why not just come out and explain to Americans what is going on?

If that happened, politics would not be any fun!

UPDATE 11/12/2009:
The New York Times has a story this morning about Peter Galbraith standing to make $100,000,000.00 as a result of oil dealings in Kurdistan.  There is no mention of the political party to which Mr. Galbraith belongs, or any specific mention of "blood for oil."  Rather, there is a reference to the fact that he "...helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and John Kerry".

$100,000,000.00 is a significant amount of money.  It is indicative of the rewards that come to those who work to increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party.

UPDATE 1/13/2011:
James Taranto's column yesterday at Best of the Web Today gives perspective to the idea of using tragic events for political gain.  Rahm Emanuel's maxim to "never allow a good crisis to go to waste" is discussed from the perspective of Jonathan Alter's comments in Newsweek.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Senator Boxer Presides

The Denver Post ran a story this morning with the headline, “Global climate-treaty ambitions downsized.” It is an Associated Press story, and included this photograph by AP photographer Harry Hamburg:

The photo is of Senator Barbara Boxer at a meeting of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, taken from above and behind. The caption under the photo is, “Sen. Barbara Boxer presides Thursday over the Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill as the panel pushed along an emissions bill, despite a GOP boycott.” The impression is that Senator Boxer is working hard as she chairs her committee.

Compare this photo to one of the same committee at Michelle Malkin’s Web site:

This picture shows Senator Boxer presiding over a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, 11/03/2009, with nobody in attendance. Michelle makes the point that bipartisanship is not a part of Senator Boxer’s committee. The AP photo alludes to this by stating at the end of its caption, “…despite a GOP boycott.”

Which picture is contrived, and which reflects reality? One fosters an impression of a hardworking Senator. The other conveys an impression of a Senator posturing and wasting time.

I think Michelle’s post might give a more accurate impression of the work being done in the EPW Committee. The Denver Post could have highlighted the divisive nature of the proceedings, but chose not to. It presents a picture of a dedicated Senate leader, working to cure world climate problems.

It gives one a sense of “The Narrative” in our anti-Republican culture.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"V" The Television Series

The Denver Post published an interview with Jon Caldara this morning. Mr. Caldara is the head of The Independence Institute, a free market think tank located in Golden, Colorado.

The interview takes place at a local tavern, and Mr. Caldara does a good job of destroying any stereotypes you have about him being an uptight Republican. The interview (with Denver Post writer Bill Husted) is fun and engaging.

The interview brings to mind a controversy that has emerged in our entertainment industry. It is over the ABC TV series “V”.

The series tells a story about a visit to earth by extraterrestrials who say they are here to help us. Political pundits think there might be (gasp!) something suspicious going on with the script writers.

The series shows the universal appeal of the “here to help you” sales pitch. It is the same marketing technique that compels us to click on a link to a Web site because it has been noticed that our computer is “running slowly” or has “become infected”. If we just click on that link (or double-click on the e-mail attachment) all will be well.

But BEWARE! Things are not always as they seem.

The controversy with “V” is over whether this effect (things not being as they seem) is also delivering a subtle political message. The aliens are pitching universal healthcare to the earth’s inhabitants and this causes viewers to reflect on current political issues.

Unfortunately, it also breaks the spell of the series. We see a dissonance between the fantasy of the show and the reality of our lives. We end up comparing the sales pitch being offered by the aliens to the sales pitch being offered by our political leaders.

Substitute a “him” for the message delivered by “them” and note the similarities:

He will save us from global warming.
He will save us from Mideast turmoil.
He will save us from economic distress.
He will save us from world opinion.

As last year's national election proves, the marketing technique is pretty effective.

Will it work for the aliens? We will have to stay tuned.

In “real” America, we get to watch a political sales pitch encourage us to give up control of our lives in favor of control by a higher (governmental) power.

I sense a kind of religious appeal.  But that’s another story.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Arctic Fox

Today is Election Day, and we are being treated to some excitement.

Sarah Palin (the Arctic Fox) recently endorsed a candidate running for office as a Representative of the 23rd Congressional District in New York. She endorsed Doug Hoffman, and it made news.

Former Senator Fred Thompson had also endorsed Mr. Hoffman. They both did this at some political risk. Rather than endorsing the GOP candidate (Diedre Scozzafava), they endorsed the Conservative Party candidate.

(Is it just me, or does anyone else see the appeal of an Arctic Fox / Fred Thompson ticket in 2012? Start the BUZZ!)

The endorsements seem to “connect the dots." Republicans are putting their careers and reputations on the line to bring sense to our political climate. In emblematic fashion, the lady who is Going Rogue breaks from the Party and backs a third party candidate.

Here’s the background information:

Our anti-Republican culture likes to put people into “boxes”; to group us by demographic or geographical characteristics. Whether we like it or not, we end up being classified as something like a “white male” or a “soccer mom”. People then assume they know our behaviors and thought processes, taking away our individuality.

Many of us don’t like that. We fight back. How do we do that? By using the Internet.

Here are some blogs that illustrate the point…

Another Black Conservative

A Conservative Teacher

A Conservative Lesbian

Just a Conservative Girl

I Love Being Right

Left Coast Rebel

Did you notice the word “Conservative” in most of them? Our culture typically places a negative connotation on that word. It is meant to convey a person with an extreme, sometimes crazy point of view.

The good news is that there is now a battle to take back control of that word. The battle is being waged on the Internet.

On the Internet, “Conservative” connotes Intellectual Independence. In each of the Blogs listed above, the person writing the blog is saying, “Don’t group me! I have free will, and this is what I think!”  The blogger is using the Internet to control his or her identity.

Let me make the point one more time:

Conservative = Intellectually Independent

I like the banner on the home page of the “I Love Being Right” site. She justifies her Blog by saying, “I just can’t be quiet any longer!!”

The Left Coast Rebel is particularly succinct. His blog title says it all.

Today, there is a battle being fought across our country. In four skirmishes, Republicans are fighting cultural conformity. They are
--“Fighting the Unions” (Douglas County School Board in Colorado);
--“Fighting the Party” (GOP in New York’s 23rd CD);
--“Fighting the Money” (New Jersey Governor’s race); and just
--“Fighting Back” (Virginia Governor’s race).

By tonight, we will know if Republicans have won any of these contests.

Watch for our anti-Republican culture to characterize any Republican victories as “disturbing.”

I think a better word is “fascinating.”

UPDATE: Smitty at The Other McCain links with comments indicating the Arctic Fox / Fred Thompson ticket is not so far-fetched.  Does anyone have a good moniker for Fred?  Maybe we can get something started here!

UPDATE II (11/4/2009): Well, three out of four isn't bad.  As Stacy says, "This isn't over."

In Colorado, we had the good fortune to have the GOP support Republicans in their desire to exert control over public school policy in Douglas County.  This might be a good example for other districts to follow.

Then again, it could be the start of a First Amendment battle, to see to what lengths people must go to avoid characterizing a candidate as a Republican or Democrat or Unaffiliated in a "non-partisan election."  Can you do it if you speak in hushed tones?  How about if you are affiliated with only a couple of outside groups?  Is avoiding the use of the letters "D" and "R" on the ballot not enough?  What exactly defines a non-partisan election, and what are the penalties for violating the rules?  Do we need federal intervention?

We live in interesting times.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Uncaring and Deceptive

In a recent post, I mentioned that Republicans are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of voters. Republicans focus too much on the “minds” side of the argument. They should be spending more time on the “feelings” side of things.

Here’s a case in point. It is a fundraising request from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Click on the video for a perfect example of how to play to an individual’s feelings.

The video has nothing substantive to say about freedom, security, or fiscal responsibility. It simply reinforces the theme that Republicans are bad people, showing a “typical Republican" as being uncaring and deceptive.

Think of the political ads you see on TV. The Republican ads focus on issues. The opposing ads deal with feelings.

The reason that the “feelings” advertisements are so persuasive is that it makes no difference what a person might be promoting if you don’t like that person as a human being. Convince an electorate that Republicans are bad people, and you have a huge political advantage.

There’s power in using themes in salesmanship.  The GOP has a long way to go in this area.

UPDATE 10/24/09:
In case the DSCC pulls the video, here is a transcript:

The setting is a spoof of the “Mac vs. PC” advertisements used by Apple to promote its computer products. The two characters are represented as U.S. Senators. The Republican is a white male, dressed in a dark business suit. The Democrat is a white female, dressed more casually, with a red sweater over a floral tunic and jeans. “FD” is the female Democrat and “WMR” is the white male Republican.

The scene opens with the two characters on a completely white set. Whimsical music is playing softly in the background…

FD: I’m a Democrat…

WMR: And I’m a Republican.

FD: I come up with ideas in the U.S. Senate to help America…

WMR: And I block them.

FD: It’s true. He does. [turns to WMR] Do you have any ideas?

WMR: No. Ideas are hard! Blocking them is easy, especially in the Senate.

FD: But don’t you care about helping the American people?

WMR: Not really. I just kind of want to see you fail.

FD: [eyes rolling] Typical… [turns to WMR] So how many hours have you wasted so far?

WMR: [proudly] In the Senate alone, Republicans have wasted over 1,000 hours. [side glance to FD] Hey, rules are rules. They add a crazy amendment here, cloture vote there; throw in a ton of filibusters. We’re very good at saying, “No.”

FD: [looking at WMR] The American people aren’t going to stand for this!

WMR: We won’t get caught. As long as they’re confused by all the noise and misinformation we throw out there.

FD: [turning to WMR in a pleading voice] But we need health care reform!

WMR: [with dismissive voice affect] Don’t care!

FD: [pleading voice] We need jobs!

WMR: [with sing-song voice affect] Don’t care! [WMR exits stage right]

FD: [deep sigh; raised eyebrow]

Cut to a graphic of the GOP plan being “NOTHING.” Follow with a splash screen for DSCC.ORG.

Note that the Republican in this video is a white male. In our culture (without exception!) caricatures and cartoon depictions of Republicans are white males. This consistent representation conveys a message to young white men that if they are Republicans and want to avoid being “losers”, they had better change their political affiliation.

Also note that the criticism associated with Republicans is for what they are. Republicans are simply people you wouldn’t want to be around. This is a very powerful message, and one that is expertly delivered.

Keep in mind that you probably won’t see any adverse reaction to this message. Our anti-Republican culture sees this as the “correct” point of view.

Isn’t that something that should be of concern to the GOP? Just asking...

UPDATE II 10/25/09:
Just got linked by Left Coast Rebel.  I think Californians have a better handle on this whole "stereotyping" thing.  The reason Andrew Breitbart was so successful with his ACORN sting is that people know that Republicans are like the caricature in this DSCC video.  A Republican could NEVER look like Hannah Giles...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They Don't Know Their Place

This week I worked as an Election Judge in Douglas County, Colorado. We are having an “off year” election, with no candidates for national office. However, we are electing four members to our seven-member school board.

Here is a copy of a mailing I received that recommends a slate of four candidates:

What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

The four candidates are recommended by the Douglas County Republican Party, and it appears that the Party is endorsing candidates who are running in a “non-partisan” election.

In addition, the Denver Post reports that Colorado Ethics Watch is asking for an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel. The contention is that one of the candidates (Meghann Silverthorn at the bottom of the election form shown above) has violated the Hatch Act because she is employed by the Department of Defense and is running as a candidate for “partisan” political office.

Once again, Republicans are causing problems.

I see this issue as connected to one in Kinston, North Carolina. The Washington Times reports on this town having decided last year to make local elections non-partisan. The main reason appears to be that Kinston is in fact a one-party city. As the Washington Times reports, “…no one among more than a half-dozen city officials and local residents was able to recall a Republican winning office here.”

So what’s the problem in Kinston? The Justice Department has ruled that Kinston may NOT conduct non-partisan elections. Loretta King, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote a letter to Kinston stating that “…the elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice.” (It might be worthwhile to note that Ms. King is the same person who brought about the dismissal of a civil suit against the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia.)

But back to the situation in Douglas County, Colorado…

Here, Republicans make up almost 50% of registered voters. In the City of Kinston, 65% of registered voters are African-American. It is reasonable to assume that most of the voters in Kinston are not Republicans.

And so we have Douglas County Republicans under fire for using partisan politics, and Kinston, North Carolina being redressed for NOT using partisan politics. What is the principle being applied in each case?

I don’t think it has anything to do with legal issues.

In Douglas County, the public school system is the province of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees. The Douglas County Federation is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and is bound and determined not to allow voters to create a Republican-dominated school board.

In Kinston, Republicans have been kept out of power for years. No local change in voting policy will be allowed to change that dynamic.

In both cases, our culture is teaching Republicans “they need to know their place.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Nobel Laureate

I tend to divide the world into two groups of people: those who are Manipulators, and … the rest of us.

The Manipulators are the ones who work the system for their own personal benefit. Whatever the arena in which they find themselves, their work is NOT for the common good or the benefit of the enterprise. It is for the personal power and authority of the Manipulator.

You probably have run into a Manipulator in your work environment. This is the person who constantly asks, “What’s in it for me?” If work is to proceed on a particular project, and the buy-in of the Manipulator is required, there must be a benefit that accrues to the Manipulator. Without that benefit in place, the Manipulator does not support the project, and work on it does not move forward.

The hallmark of a Manipulator is inconsistency of principle. A principle is supported only so long as it benefits the Manipulator. You might hear this characterized as opportunism, but I think it goes beyond that. The Manipulator has to sell his or her position on a particular principle, so there is an emotional component or “passion” that has to be applied. The degree and depth of communication of this passion is what distinguishes a great Manipulator from an average one.

Politics is a magnet for Manipulators. It is the arena where their craft can be employed in the context of a high-stakes game. The game has high costs in terms of both lives and property, and the Manipulator works to make sure that all risks are assumed by others.

President Obama is slated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is awarded for various reasons, but in his case it appears to be awarded for appeasement! He is being celebrated for expressing the idea that, “I can get along with people who want to kill me.” His message is that others should feel the same way.

World opinion, with few exceptions, legitimizes this position.

The problem with the President’s position is that the risk is assumed by all of us who don’t have access to the protections afforded the POTUS. Mr. Obama is protected by one of the best security details in the world. While he is able to profess being comfortable with people who want to kill him, he knows that those same people will have a difficult time achieving their objective. That is not so true for the rest of us.

Getting along with people who want to kill you doesn't work out well. Cambodians remember the 1975 to 1979 years in which 2 million people died. Rwandans will remember the 1 million lost in 1994. And yet it still seems that appeasement is held out as a noble stance.

What will cause appeasement to lose its cachet? REALITY!

When a Holocaust occurs, people pay attention. If you are still trying to get along with those who are butchering other people, you become subject to ridicule. This is what the Manipulator cannot stand. The principle on which the position of appeasement was taken will change, and change fast.

This all sounds like extreme imagery, but I think we should remove appeasement from the realm of platitudes and euphemism. Think of Microsoft and its products. For whatever reason, certain people want to harm Microsoft. Hackers create ways to access the Microsoft operating system and do harm to its users. Microsoft could issue a statement saying “Microsoft wants to get along with those who wish to do it harm,” but that would not be in the best interest of Microsoft shareowners. They expect the company to protect itself and to protect them.

Why is this an obvious position to take, and yet in the world of politics, it is deemed right and natural to want to get along with those who want to kill you?

I don’t have a good answer, but it’s what makes politics interesting.

UPDATE 11/07/2009:
The Fort Hood incident on Thursday is a tragedy that brings into focus the clash between Nobel fantasy and reality. Note that the President has been careful in his remarks about the shooting. Rather than devote time specifically to acknowledgement of the tragedy, he packages his remarks within the context of other announcements.

The deaths of 13 people in a "gun free zone" is what politicians might call the "tension between idealism and reality." The President does not want to break that "Peace Prize aura" by acknowledging that his desire to get along with people who want to kill him might be dangerous for others.

His style of "leadership by example" comes dangerously close to being "leadership by hypocrisy."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Are the GEICO Cavemen Republicans?

The current healthcare debate has become a “Clash of Characterizations.” Those who favor the government plan are portrayed as deliberate and thoughtful, simply asking the question, “Who could oppose something that benefits so many?”

Opponents are characterized as Crazies or Racists, and could end up being targeted for reprisal.

Since Republicans make up the preponderance of those who oppose government-run healthcare, it is Republicans who suffer the greatest amount of negativity in the characterizations. If you happen to oppose the government plan and are NOT a Republican, you probably begin your statement of opinion with something like, “I’m an Independent, but...” You shield yourself from the Crazy/Racist characterizations by clarifying for all that you are NOT A REPUBLICAN!

I sense something of this effect when watching the actors who portray the GEICO Cavemen. They come across as hip individuals who are totally dismayed when their culture assumes them to be inferior. Republicans, in similar fashion, might be bright and capable, but they are considered misguided and politically inferior by our culture. It is a burden that tends to make Republicans defensive and negative, and that behavior actually ends up reinforcing the stereotype.

Why not derive some fun from all this? The next time you are on an airport people-mover, or meeting some friends after a ride, watch for some facet of our culture that demeans or diminishes Republicans in a way that is “normal” or “natural.” It might be a newspaper article, a movie, or a show on late-night television.

Send a note to this blog. (The e-mail is on the profile page.) I will make sure it gets documented in the annals of our anti-Republican culture.

Who knows? You could be the next Michael Yon in America’s Culture War!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Death of Conservatism

Hugh Hewitt recently interviewed Sam Tanenhaus about his new book “The Death of Conservatism.” The interview was broadcast on The Hugh Hewitt Radio Show on Thursday, 9/17/2009.

A week later, Mr. Hewitt posted an e-mail response to the interview from one of his readers. It made me think of the way Republicans are misinterpreting our political climate. The reader’s response was characterized as being extremely effective. I’m not so sure about that.

Politics is messy. Americans struggle over ideology, wondering whether “liberalism,” “moderation” or “conservatism” sets the right course. Even within the Republican Party, the going gets rough. One can get a sense of the state of affairs through the writings of Stacy McCain. His arguments are always colorful and passionate.

But what of this particular response to the Sam Tanenhaus interview? To the question implied by the title of the book, the e-mailer’s reply was simply, “No we’re not.” The respondent gave several examples of how conservatism still had “vital signs.”

It made me smile.

Republicans look at the task of “winning hearts and minds” and immediately concentrate on the “minds.” The Hugh Hewitt e-mail is a classic Republican response. It tackles the intellectual side of the argument quite well, but to what end? It has limited popular appeal.

Mr. Tanenhaus knows that his book is a smokescreen. He diverts the attention of Republicans to the intellectual battle of ideas, when they should be concentrating on the emotional battle of feelings.

Here’s a recent event that gives you an idea of where there might be a problem:

On Friday evening, 9/25/09, the Jay Leno Show began its hour of primetime entertainment with the traditional monologue. At 8:10 into the monologue, Jay introduces a segment titled “Great White Moments in Black History.” It lasts for 30 seconds and features a spokesman telling the story of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who revealed in 2003 that she was the daughter of “noted segregationist” Strom Thurmond. Mr. Thurmond, in his twenties, had engaged in sexual relations with a housemaid, and Essie Mae had kept it a secret until after Senator Thurmond’s death. At the end of the sketch, the Jay Leno spokesman gives an expression of feigned amazement, and the audience erupts into laughter.

The joke was funny because it was about a dead Republican. If it were about someone else, it would not be funny. It might even be considered macabre!

The studio audience (and maybe some reading this post) did not get the inside joke from the bit. When Senator Thurmond fathered Essie Mae, he was not a Republican. Senator Thurmond did not become a Republican until he changed parties in 1964. Interestingly, he was not characterized as a racist until after he became a Republican.

Why bring this incident to your attention? It points out that Republicans have a long way to go in this battle. Republicans are not losing ground because they have bad ideas. It is because they are considered to be bad people. Our culture is creating this perception. Republicans are forever characterized as the ones wearing the black hats.

Frances Rice is doing what she can to set the record straight. She notes that “Martin Luther King was a Republican.” But Americans have trouble believing what she says. When they process that sentence, they react emotionally. Their hearts say, “This can’t be possible. Dr. King was a good person, and I know that Republicans are not.”

If you are hearing this for the first time, your gut is probably giving you that same feeling of dissonance, with a squirt of stomach acid telling you, “This is nuts!”

Nonetheless, it is true, and it indicates the difficulties that lie ahead for Republicans.

Republicans enjoy fighting the battle for the minds of Americans. They believe that if they can just set the record straight, everything will work out. Unfortunately, American hearts are being led in a different direction.

Who is winning the war?

Not Republicans.

UPDATE 10/20/2009:
A lesson in proper warfighting technique is provided by Stacy McCain.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Politics of Favoritism

The New York Times had a recent article on earmarks being inserted into the current healthcare legislation. It made me reflect on how our culture has come to accept political payoffs being brokered by those who represent us in Congress.

The story covers the specific accommodations made by certain Senators to individuals and organizations within their jurisdictions. It also highlights the efforts of Senator Orrin Hatch to get an amendment passed that would favor medical insurance plans in the state of Utah.

Senator Hatch’s amendment is a “tongue in cheek” effort to point out the arbitrary nature of some sections of the legislation. However, it is characterized by the New York Times as just another quirky effort by an out-of-touch Republican Senator. You have to get past that characterization to continue with the story.

The heart of the article is the disclosure of the manner in which earmarks are placed within legislation. It shows how the beneficiaries are not explicitly named. Rather, they are designated by a specific event that pertains to them, and them alone.

Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, has a provision for more favorable Medicare rates to a medical facility in his home state of Nevada. The facility is the Nevada Cancer Institute, but it is not transparently named as such in the legislation. Instead, it is referenced as a facility “designated on June 10, 2003, as the official cancer institute of its state.” The National Cancer Institute could have designated any institute within any of our 50 states on that date, but (surprisingly!) there was only one, and it was in the state of Nevada.

And so a specific facility in a specific state receives preferential treatment from our federal government. Senator Hatch is criticized for trying to direct federal funds to his state; Senator Reid is begrudgingly celebrated for his expertise in working the legislative system to favor certain benefactors.

America’s culture is changing in tone. Our laws still protect individuals, but our politics accommodate favoritism. The idea of fairness is no longer a “given.” You must pay into the political system, either with time or money. If you don’t realize that, you risk being characterized as na├»ve.

It saddens me, this change in our culture. I still like the idea of America being the land of opportunity. It is unsettling that we so often see special favors being traded between the elite and powerful in our country, while the rest of us are left on the sidelines as “props.”

America will survive, but you have to wonder why, in aggregate, we no longer care about the “soul” of our country.

UPDATE 11/20/2009:
Senator Reid has designated $100 million in taxpayer money to assure a vote for his healthcare bill from Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  ABC News' Jonathan Karl has the story.

It's as though taxpayers have given a Medical Power of Attorney to Congress, and Senators are using it to bribe one another.

UPDATE 11/24/2010:
Forbes has an article by Richard Epstein that looks at the recent spate of legislative waivers.  We see this with the current health care legislation.  Waivers, like earmarks, are another example of political favoritism.  The ideal for our representative form of government is legislation that stands on its own merits, without the necessity of waivers or earmarks for political identity groups.

UPDATE 12/2/2010:
Andrew Breitbart's Big Government has a post by J. Christian Adams that highlights a recent example of the politics of favoritism.  A payout of $4.6 billion to American Indians and black farmers to settle race discrimination claims was shepherded through by a political appointee within the Department of Justice.  Mr. Adams quit his job at DOJ in protest of this kind of activity, and he provides an insider's view of how an organization dedicated to promoting "equal justice for all" has strayed from that mission in its quest to advance identity group politics.

UPDATE 7/9/2012:
Matthew Mitchell with the Mercatus Center at George Washington University has a good background on the economic consequences of government favoritism.

UPDATE 7/20/2012:
Kimberley Strassel has an article in The Wall Street Journal showing where there is political favoritism, there is also political unfavoritism.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Y = C + I + G

Are there any Keynesians out there?

The equation in the title of this post is the classical description of spending for a given country. The equation describes how Total Spending (Gross Domestic Product) is made up of Consumption, Investment, and Government spending.

For those of you who are economists, please excuse the absence of the Balance of Payments component. I want to keep this simple.

Furthermore, I am going to ignore Investment. Converting money into goods and services is important, but like Imports and Exports, it is not going to help this discussion.

What remains is a very simple idea: GDP is directly related to the sum of our government’s spending and the spending of individuals. Why is this important? Because these two sources of spending COMPETE with one another.

Our country is embracing the idea that more government spending is what is necessary to make life better in the United States. It seems to be “the right thing to do.”

But is it, really?

I am one of those people who tend to personalize things. If I want to analyze a public policy, I look at what impact it will have on me. If I think of myself as the “C” in the equation, and our government as the “G”, an increase in government spending or an increase in my own personal consumption should lead to an increase in GDP.

But, in personalizing this, what if I am the only person in America, and the government is competing with me? Where does the “G” come from? It has to come from me, or it comes from “The Balance Sheet.”

I used to work for U S WEST, before it was taken over by Qwest. These are telecom companies, and they are regulated monopolies. They are governed by something called the Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction over them setting rates and offering new services. In return for this oversight and regulation, they are given a guaranteed return on the customer base they serve.

I was impressed by the accounting at U S WEST, where budgetary numbers were always met. That may not be true today, but in the 1980s, the shareowners were rarely surprised by the financial data. If an income was expected for a given year, that was the amount of income reported. How was that possible? It was The Balance Sheet.

The Balance Sheet is what lists the assets and liabilities of a company; what it owns and what it owes. It goes up and down depending on asset valuations and company performance. That is expected. It is not of great importance to tie it to a budget.

What is NOT expected is to have income vary from budget. That is what you read about when you see reports that a company either “met expectations” or failed analysts’ expectations. Analysts are looking at income, and they judge failure in very harsh terms.

How do you move items from the income statement to The Balance Sheet? By using accrual accounting, where you categorize the income as “deferred income” or “anticipated income”. You simply classify it as something “about to show up” or “on hand but about to be spent” and put it on The Balance Sheet.

We get to see that with our government expenditures. If the money is spent, but it hasn’t shown up, it is a “deficit”. On the other hand, if the money hasn’t been spent but has shown up, The Balance Sheet shows a “surplus.”

Keep in mind that The Balance Sheet for most of us is an abstraction. We don’t care about it unless things are seriously bad. Instead, the income statement is where we focus. We want GDP to go up so that we are no longer in a recession. What do we do? We force the numbers up with government spending. Have the government spend more and GDP goes up. Life is good!

The problem with working to manipulate the numbers on the income statement is that you lose sight of the business. When your task is to make the numbers look good, your interest in the health of the economy (the state of the business) takes a back seat to the numbers.

That is what is worrying Republicans right now. Our government is doing things to make the numbers look good, and is losing sight of the country’s health. It is selecting winners and losers for the short term, and making structural changes that seem not in the best interest of America over the long term.

Of course, that depends on what each of us thinks is best for America. Not surprisingly, what we think is best for America often tends to benefit us personally.

When I personalize this issue, I find that deficit spending and/or higher taxes do not improve my personal well-being. When the government takes more from me, it lowers my consumption and that of my family.

I also have a strong suspicion that the government doesn’t spend money with the same care and efficiency that I do. I get the “double whammy” of reduced personal consumption and increased government waste.

Higher taxes slide the spending equation from me to the government. That may work for some people in the near term, but my diminished spending capacity is eventually going to make it so that I cannot give the government as much tax revenue as it needs. Here is how things are shaping up right now:

As the gap widens between what you and I spend versus what the government spends, we are going to feel a loss of opportunity and choice that has been an expected part of American culture for many years.

Republicans see a “Bad Moon Rising”. Our culture doesn’t see it at all.

UPDATE 5/22/2012:
The Facebook IPO brings up an interesting issue in tax policy.  Our government wants to figure out what to do with Eduardo Saverin.  Reichsfluchtsteuer might have worked in Germany, but is it appropriate for America?

UPDATE 7/26/2012:
Daniel Henninger, writing in The Wall Street Journal, carries the point further.  He notes that the results of the election this fall will be a mandate of the American public for either a pre-eminent public economy or a pre-eminent private economy.  That's profound!

UPDATE 8/1/2012:
Stephen Moore has a WSJ tribute to Milton Friedman.  Friedman was a monetarist; Keynes was a fiscalist.  Monetarists work to stabilize monetary policy.  Fiscalists manipulate it in an attempt to achieve governmental objectives.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anti-Republican Cartoons

On Sunday, 9/20/2009, the Denver Post featured the latest political cartoon by Mike Keefe:

It's a standard caricature, but did you notice anything distinctive? What if you compare it to one of Mr. Keefe's cartoons from an earlier post:

In each case, the caricature is of a Republican. It's not a caricature of a Republican leader or a specific representative of the Republican Party. It's a caricature of the Republican everyman.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive here, but in each case, the Republican is a white male.

Mr. Keefe creates his cartoons reflexively. There is no purposeful attempt to demonize Republicans in general; it just comes out that way. A white male caricature is used to stigmatize people who belong to a particular political party in America. It is "right and natural."

Why is this important? It is because of the widespread acceptance of this behavior in our anti-Republican culture. Try to think of any other group you could stigmatize in this way with no adverse reaction from the populace. Could you do it to women? People with disabilities? How about an ethnic group? Try it with people of the jewish faith and you are anti-Semitic. Do it to people with dark skin tone and you are accused of Raaaaacism!

But when you do it to Republicans, it is appropriate.

UPDATE 4/25/2011:
Our culture celebrates Mr. Keefe's anti-Republican work.  On 4/18/2011 he was honored with a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for editorial cartooning.  Michael Ramirez was not nominated.

UPDATE 6/5/2011:
In the interest of fairness of context, please note that the Pulitzer Prize committee did award Mr. Ramirez a Pulitzer in 1994 and in 2008.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unspoken Accusations


Racism is becoming a defining issue in American culture. The theme is that if I am a Republican, I am a racist.

The accusation sticks in the air. When I encounter a non-Republican, I sense the attitude. It marks the person.

Here is my unspoken response to these people:

"I don't like that you affiliate with an organization that accuses me of being a racist!"

(Just so you know...)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Your Baby Racist?

That is the headline from the cover of Newsweek for the week of September 14, 2009.

It gets your attention, and it’s meant to. It directs you to an article within the magazine (pages 53 through 60) by authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman are releasing their book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, and the Newsweek article is part of the promotion associated with their book tour. You can also read their blog on the Newsweek Web site.

The headline illustrates the cultural divide in America. I’m a Republican, so my reaction to the headline was, “What the hell is this about!” If you are a non-Republican, you probably thought, “This looks like some interesting research on a disturbing problem in America.”

Why the difference in reaction? It has to do with that unsettling theme in our culture that Republicans are racists. Some make light of it – I love Stacy McCain’s use of the word racism. (raaaaacism!) – but it still stings. Depending on where you are located in the political spectrum, it either hurts or it validates.

The article itself describes the work of Birgitte Vittrup in 2006. It notes that children as young as six months judge other children based on skin color. The rhetorical question is posed, “What’s a parent to do?”

The word that gets my attention is that children “judge” others. I think that word choice is significant. Children are not discerning the traits of other children. Rather, they are JUDGING other children. The article points out that this disturbing result comes from a sample of 100 Caucasian families in the Austin, Texas area.

Why am I worked up over this article? The reader is being told about an earth-shaking research study. The authors relate stories they have heard from parents and teachers about how they struggle to talk about race with their children.

The context is that this is a dialogue that parents and teachers must have with children. They must also talk about things like (shhh!) sex. These are the “difficult talks.”

I rebel against race being one of those difficult talks that must take place. It elevates the issue of skin tone to something akin to a life passage. I know that after the death of a family member, you might have the “Death Talk” with a youngster. Similarly, at some point you might have the “Sex Talk” with your child. But must we have the “Race Talk”? This implies that APPEARANCE is as significant as death!

If we are going to have “The Talk” about skin tone, should we have one about hair length? How about height and weight? Maybe there’s the ethnicity talk or the talk about religion. How about the anti-Republican talk?

As you might surmise, I take offense at the idea that we must judge people based upon appearance. It seems contrived. Must we have “The Race Talk” in order to move into a post-racial era?

Let me put a different context on this.

Let’s say that race is simply a political issue. If, as a politician, you classify a political group as a racist group, then it becomes important to keep that classification at the forefront of the American consciousness. If racism is perceived to be a problem, and you can convince people that those accused of racism are bad people, then you have a cause that can increase your political power. It feels good!

But is it… “good”?

The writers of NurtureShock look at 100 Caucasian families around Austin, Texas. That doesn’t sound too bad. The article characterizes the families (page 53) in this fashion: “It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity.”

You will have to ask yourself at this point, “Is that the impression I am keeping in mind?” Is this a study about multiculturalists?

What if it’s a study about white people in Texas? The distinction is important. It has to do with that “one-off characterization” effect, where you don’t directly criticize Republicans. Rather, this is simply a study of white people in Texas. You are left to connect the dots.

Furthermore, did you notice there is no study of a group of 100 families with dark skin tone, or varying skin tone - not even as a control group? The writers of NurtureShock simply look at 100 Caucasian families and see racial problems amongst the study participants.

At this point, you probably think I’m going overboard. But remember that we recently saw an instance of an individual who was able to discern the intent of a person who acts like a Republican, and that intent was racist in nature. Maureen Dowd, an opinion columnist for the New York Times recently wrote about her perception of a remark by Republican Joe Wilson. She said that when Representative Wilson called out “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, his intent was to say, “You lie, boy.” Ms. Dowd believes she can divine what is in the hearts of Republicans.

When you hear Republicans accused of being racists, or see a study affirming the racism of Republicans, you might question if there is a political purpose behind the act. Why is it that our culture sees the political party that was expressly formed to uphold the Constitution and fight against slavery as “the party of racism”?

Maybe that’s a good question for a new study.